Phata Wins Global Sustainability Award


Illovo Sugar Malawi plc extends its congratulations to Phata Sugarcane Outgrowers Cooperative in Malawi which has won the inaugural “Growing a Better Planet Award” under the Farm Sustainability Assessment (FSA), by the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative Platform (SAI Platform). The SAI Platform is a global non-profit network and one of the primary global food and drink value-chain initiatives for sustainable agriculture, developing sustainable agriculture solutions through member-driven pre-competitive collaboration. Its solution, the FSA, enables businesses to assess, improve, and validate on-farm sustainability.

The FSA Growing a Better Planet Award celebrates farmers, individuals and organisations demonstrating leadership and innovation in their efforts to continuously improve on-farm sustainability. Illovo Sugar Malawi supported Phata to submit its award nomination on the grounds of its leading sustainability initiatives see the Phata Nomination video here! Following an adjudication process amongst nominations from major businesses across the world at the FSA Community of Practice event in Rome 19-21 April 2023, the Phata Cooperative was announced the winner with the award received on its behalf by Megan Harrington, Illovo’s Group Grower Agriculture Strategy Support Strategist.

Handing over the award to the Phata dignitaries, Illovo Sugar Malawi Managing Director Lekani Katandula said that he was incredibly pleased about the win, given the long-standing and close partnership with the Phata Cooperative and their management consultants Agricane, which has matured over the past 12 years.

From right to left are: Katharine Teague, VP of the SAI Platform and ABFSugar Group ESG Director; Ibrahim Bwanali, Treasurer; Wiston Yohane, Chairperson; Regina Meki, Committee member; Janet Chikadza, Committee member; and Lackson Banda, Secretary, together with Lekani Katandula (extreme left)

“The major benefit we both share in this relationship, outside of our business transactions, is that of the assurance we both have for ongoing governance, social inclusion and environmental sustainability in the supply chain. This assurance is guided and verified through the FSA tool, together with Phata’s Fairtrade certification.

This award recognises the cooperative’s leadership in sustainability, operating within a community stressed by climate change, deforestation and poverty. They have driven interventions such as renewable charcoal production, crop diversification and biodiversity which have demonstrated that sustainability is possible, and indeed essential, within a smallholder context,” said Lekani.

These sentiments are mirrored by Bouke Bijl of AgriCane, co-founders of Phata, who said that verification initiatives like the FSA are key drivers for the continued success of the Phata Cooperative in ensuring that it remains an economically, socially and environmentally sustainable production entity that will consistently continue providing income and livelihood security to all of its members. “As the Phata Team, we are very proud to have achieved this award! This could only be achieved with the continued efforts of the management team and the committed leadership by the Executive Committee,” said Bouke.

The ground-breaking achievement by Phata follows Illovo Sugar Africa’s first FSA audit process in 2022. The result of the audit conducted under FSA version 3.0 was “silver level” status for all of its participating estates, those being Nchalo Estate, Dwangwa, Maragra, Kilombero, Nakambala and Ubombo. Most importantly, the three independent growers within the Nchalo factory’s cane supply also participated in the 2022 FSA audits, of which Phata Cooperative and Kasinthula Cane Growers Association were the very first sustainability accreditation for smallholder sugarcane farming in Africa under FSA 3.0. Kaombe Sugar Estate, a large-scale grower in the Shire Valley also achieved a Silver Level status. It serves as a powerful example of what is possible within grower agriculture and for the Illovo group, provides the impetus for it to roll out the FSA sustainability process across its wider grower base.

Says Lekani: “It demonstrates that adopting sustainable agricultural practices can be achieved, whilst also delivering powerful livelihood and community development outcomes.”

Some of the other crops and farming activities undertaken by Phata members, including vegetable growing and aquaculture, in addition to the cultivation of irrigated sugar cane spanning over 600 hectares.

The Phata Sugarcane Outgrowers Cooperative in Malawi Cooperative was formed in 2011 and is a smallholder farmer-owned organisation with 1  130 household members today. The farmers, who operate in a climate-risk area, pool their land and operate under irrigation at a much larger economy of scale, than independently. Designed as such to bring about sustainable development outcomes, its founding partner is Agricane, with grant funding received from European Union and with the assistance of impact investors, such as AgDevCo. In addition to a range of other crops and farming activities, the cane produced across more than 600 hectares of irrigated fields is milled at Illovo’s Nchalo sugar factory in Chikwawa in the Southern Region of Malawi.

In addition, the Cooperative also farms two hectares of orchards (with mangos, bananas, and oranges); 30 hectares of food crops (such as maize and kidney beans); conserves and sustainably manages 50 hectares of natural and planted forests; has sustainable beekeeping; and also has 1.2 hectares of fish ponds, as a sustainable protein source for smallholder members.

The Cooperative also operates sustainable charcoal production, using trees harvested from its own planted woodlots, with the intention of disrupting deforestation and illegal charcoal activities within the surrounding area.

Income from Phata’s activities has substantially improved the livelihoods of Phata’s smallholder farmers. Additionally, Phata is also a significant employer within the local community. And wider community impact has also been realised through the spending of Fairtrade Premiums on local development projects.